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Chicago Expands Kiosk Program to Make Services More Accessible

Chicago and its technology partner CityBase have expanded a program offering payment kiosks throughout the city. The devices are strategically positioned to allow safe and easy access to services 24/7.

A city with stacks of coins faded in the foreground.
The city of Chicago has expanded its partnership with kiosk provider CityBase to increase access to payment locations throughout the city.

The devices — now a total of 74 — can be used for a variety of payment services, ranging from paying utility bills to parking tickets, according to Comptroller Reshma Soni.

Intended to improve access to government services, the partnership initially began in 2017, but further expansion was announced in September. The city expects to have a total of 119 kiosks available for residents to use by the end of June 2022.

“I think, overall, accessibility is something that the constituents have really been pushing for,” she stated.

Mike Duffy, CityBase CEO and Chicago resident, explained that the kiosks were strategically placed in three main types of locations: payment centers that operate during normal business hours, such as City Hall; police stations, which offer a 24/7 payment option; and libraries, which enable greater community access for neighborhoods.

The effort amounts to the largest municipal installation of this kind of technology in the country, Duffy said.

Constituents have responded well to the kiosks that can be used 24/7, Soni added, particularly because it creates an option for those who work during the day. She said that residents, especially those carrying cash or completing the transaction at night, may feel more secure doing so at a kiosk located at a police station.

Individuals can use the kiosks to pay with cash, checks or credit cards.

An important component of Chicago’s approach was offering a no-fee option for users, as there are sometimes additional fees associated with paying by credit card, Duffy explained. Similarly, payments are fee-less for the roughly 25 percent of residents that use only cash.

Duffy said that while cities save money in terms of the cost per transaction, the “social costs” of these interactions often go unmeasured. The social cost, as he described it, examines the cost associated for someone to take time off work, find child care and acquire transportation to make a payment.

For those who can only make partial payments on a bill, he said, these largely uncounted costs can add up quickly.

The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the importance of this project for the city, Soni notes, as it became more difficult for people to leave their homes to access in-person city services.

“Anytime you invest in technology, especially technology that brings accessibility and reduces the burden on your constituents, it’s always a win for the city,” Soni said of the return on investment.

The kiosk acts as a terminal into a cloud-based application, Duffy stated. This enables secure transactions for city residents and a receipt for any transaction is generated in the cloud right before the machine prints a physical copy.

“There’s no information [stored] on the machines, and we’re interacting with city systems in real time,” Duffy stated.

Another important piece of this project is ensuring that those who need to use these kiosks are able to understand how they work. The kiosks use a large user-friendly touchscreen to operate and offer multiple language options.

Soni explained that if somebody would like assistance in learning how to use the kiosk, they can go to an in-person payment site, like City Hall, for a demonstration.

The company is also working with cities like Indianapolis, Ind., and Austin, Texas.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.